Child sexual exploitation and abuse (CSEA) is a global epidemic. It exists in every country of the world and happens at home, at school, online and in communities. And it happens at an appalling scale; estimates suggest that more than 1 billion people have experienced it.
There is much to do to tackle this scourge of child sexual violence – and this includes building knowledge and investing in quality data, as well as evidence-based solutions.
In order to fill this gap, the Out of the Shadows Index 2022 (OOSI) was launched at a high-level dialogue on the margins of the 77th UN General Assembly. OOSI is a global assessment of how countries are addressing CSEA, shining a light on the governance architecture: what are countries doing, not doing and could be doing to combat CSEA.
It is a government report card, which examines 60 national strategies on prevention as well as response – including legislation, programmes and commitments. This is the second report since 2019, which tracks where progress is made, and where there might be slides.
The launch event aimed to catalyse action and support ongoing advocacy by presenting the latest data and evidence emerging from the OOSI report. Dr. Howard Taylor, Executive Director, End Violence Partnership, stressed the need to act now to capture the unprecedented opportunity to make breakthrough progress to end child sexual violence. He called for a focus on evidence, political attention, survivors’ voices and scalable solutions – and for urgent investment to make this happen.
How countries have fared:
- More countries are monitoring CSEA than in 2019 – a 23 percent increase. Monitoring is vital to prevention and response. But it is not all good news: 42% have a national strategy or action plan on CSEA – a decrease of 36 per cent from 2019
- Prevention education (awareness) programmes are key in ushering change. 83 per cent are helping children prevent sexual violence themselves - but not enough are helping parents, school personnel, and youth-serving organisations. France, for example, shot up the index ranking thanks in part to such awareness programmes. Canada is another forerunner, and has guidance programmes for children survivors and parents as well as systems for intervention with potential offenders
- Income alone is not a strong determinant of a country's ability to prevent and respond to CSEA. Three of the top ten countries—South Africa, Indonesia and Turkey—are middle-income economies and 55% of the top 20 countries are non-high income. Therefore, political will, government action and advocacy can drive progress despite the income of the country.
- Online CSEA is a serious and rising concern, more so during the COVID-19 context Two-thirds of countries have policies on online CSEA, but these do not address all aspects of safety. Only one-third have policies against online grooming. Countries do not have the right systems in place to tackle this yet.
What needs to be done:
CSEA is currently not a global or national priority. Leaders across sectors need to come together to strengthen the response. The report makes urgent calls to action and recommendations for countries to tackle CSEA and to enact robust policy frameworks in every nation.
Policy change needs to include:
- Meeting international standards - there might be near universal ratification of the CRC, but many are not aligned with individual sections and codes. For example, the minimum age of criminal responsibility is set to 14 but only 2 in 5 countries are aligned to it.
- Making more child-centred systems: involving children and survivors in the creation of support systems will make effective, informed, policies.
- Ignite a culture shift - changing mindsets will bring change across sectors by targeting the root of the problem and changing our priorities.
Good data informs good policy. End Violence is taking critical steps to address child sexual exploitation and abuse, online and offline, through knowledge, advocacy and investment. Through the Disrupting Harm project, a $7 million investment brings light to the harms and risks children are facing in 13 counties. A joint effort by End Violence, ECPAT International, INTERPOL and the UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti, this innovative research uses a multi-sector approach and the specific expertise of these global agencies and their local partners, to generate solutions and make recommendations for countries to make the internet safer, including prioritising children’s access to justice and supporting victims of CSEA.